Lunatic Review

TheatreN16 30 – 31 October.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick

I was so excited when I heard about this. Lunatic – a nu-gothic play about Dr John Seward and his sessions with R. N. Renfield in his insane asylum. I wanted to see what the talented Whit Hertford could do with Bram Stoker’s classic.

Staged in the Globe Space at the Bedford, giving the whole show a grander feel than in the smaller space upstairs, Lunatic started promisingly enough to the strains of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”. White walls and stark strip lighting bring the plot forward from the Victorian era. Keeping true to the epistolary nature of Stoker’s novel, Hertford has Seward recording his diary after sessions with Renfield as he struggles to understand the nature of Renfield’s madness.

Chris Spyrides is most effective when Renfield is coherent and calm – very creepy – his shouts and roars were slightly overdone for me, and made me wish for a volume controller. Justin Stahley roots Seward firmly in the 21st century with his ticks and mannerisms, and keeps the audience’s attention with his quieter but eminently watchable performance. Sorcha Bannon is almost inaudible in her initial scenes as Mina, but her performance becomes stronger as Mina feels Dracula’s influence.

To emphasise the difference between the characters (maybe?) Whitfield has them speaking across the centuries. Renfield spouts huge amounts of Victorian gothic language, with all the fantastic insults, while Seward speaks like a confused IT technician. Seward’s infatuation with Lucy Westenra is handled sweetly, veering towards rom-com cliché at times, but moving the story along at a fine pace. Renfield’s little friends live in a padded envelope, and the scenes where he eats his way up the food chain are handled imaginatively. In fact, Lunatic is a play with some promise, until Renfield bites Seward. If only Whitford had ended the play there.

As Seward begins to lose his mind, I’m afraid I lost the will to live. The fractured state of the latter part of the play may well be meant to reflect Seward’s state of mind, but there was nothing memorable or coherent happening at all. Renfield’s ravings became repetitive and tedious and Seward seemed to morph into a petulant teenager. The scenes where Renfield is talking to his master were more rib tickling than spine tingling, and the introduction of Mina Harker served no purpose at all – the narrative could have progressed through Seward’s recordings instead. How Harker handily gets into Renfield’s cell (may have been for sex – don’t know – any action that took place when characters were seated or lying down was obscured unless you were in the front rows) is a mystery and added nothing. By the time the play ended in a bloody mess, in all senses of the word, I’m afraid I had lost interest in the characters and was hoping Van Helsing would stake them all.

A bold attempt at innovating the Dracula story, but Lunatic needs a lot of work on its later scenes to maintain its early momentum and promise.